Parenting 101

April 2011

1. My 14yo son has always been a good kid – good grades, well-behaved, active in sports, etc. Lately he’s been spending a lot of time alone in his room on the computer – becoming withdrawn and secretive and gets fairly agitated when I come into his room. How much privacy should I allow him? And should I worry about other issues like drugs? Thank you.

Age 14 is a typical age when young adults need more privacy. Most often they are dealing with their own emerging sexuality. Your son sounds like a child of great parenting. A rule of thumb about privacy is that everyone should be given the privacy they ask for. However, privacy, like privileges, must be earned. We would suggest you regularly check the websites visited by your son. This is different than directly reading your son’s e-mails or journal, a level of privacy invasion that would need very, very serious circumstances to justify. (If you’re not sure how to do this, computer experts at Office Depot, Best Buy, etc. should be able to give you a quick lesson on the phone.) Knowing what sites are being visited is appropriate information for a parent to review, and really all parents who allow their children internet access should monitor this. The content your son chooses to view may help guide you to some of the issues he is struggling with.

His being withdrawn, secretive and agitated when you come into his room is definitely cause for concern, but does not in and of itself point to drugs. If it is determined that your son is not viewing inappropriate web sites or engaging in irresponsible behavior then allow him the privacy he asks for. It is your responsibility as the parent to make sure his behavior in his room is appropriate. A good adolescent family counselor may be in order either way.

2. My 12yo daughter is a late bloomer – most of her friends are already interested in boys, clothes, and make-up. Because my daughter isn’t, some of her “friends” are starting to call her names and imply that she’s gay. She is becoming very stressed and now she dreads going to school. I need advice on how to handle this situation.

It’s good to see you put “friends” in quotations as their behavior clearly shows that they are not performing that role in your daughter’s life…which doesn’t mean that your daughter does not consider them friends or that leaving them for new ones would be an easy and/or simple transition for her. School authorities do need to be made aware of what is going on as this falls under bullying behavior which is beginning to be taken more seriously by schools. Reassure your daughter frequently that she is just fine and that her lack of interest in boys, clothes and make up at age 12 is perfectly normal and healthy. Try to find ways to increase her interaction with other girls who are aging appropriately. Proactively seeking out positive interaction is usually a far easier task than cutting off negative interaction. If her level of ongoing emotional distress warrants it, seek professional counseling or therapy for her.
It is one thing to be drawn to others who are most similar to you, so it is part of the natural path of teens that they shift friends due to changing interests. However, it is not natural, okay, or acceptable to attack others who are different (or you perceive to be different) from you. Definitely seek some help from the school guidance team.

The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or contact: events@sbcoalition.com